I Lost My Home, My Job and My Marriage, So I Climbed Kilimanjaro
Savoring the summit with my newfound soul mate Susan (left). PS: We’re not that fat, just wearing six layers of clothes. (Photo: Susan Paley Abramson)
It’s 2 a.m. and I’m in a tent pitched on snow just below the summit of Kilimanjaro. I haven’t felt my fingers or toes in a few days, and my head has hurt for just as long. I’m coming down with bronchitis. I’m clutching a hot water bottle inside my thick down sleeping bag but still shivering too hard to sleep, and also filled with a Christmas-morning anticipation of getting this journey over with tomorrow.
I’m awake through yet another pitch-black, endless lonely night. It dawns on me that I’ve been too heedful of the guides’ admonishments to drink lots of water to fend off altitude sickness. I fumble around for my headlamp, then retrieve my Sani-Fem Freshette from its sticky Ziploc and take care of business (don’t ask). But I must be delirious from the elevation, and I let my pee bottle overflow. I search for some disposable clothing, then set about mopping up my tent floor. I’ve had some bleak, embarrassing moments in the past couple years, but this is surely a new low. I wonder why I’ve paid for this misery.
I could have just gone to the Bahamas for my birthday.
Almost done with the Western Breach. Notice the puffy, tear-stained face. (Photo: Susan Paley Abramson)
About two years earlier, my life had exploded. In February 2012, I had a dream job as the travel editor of a respected luxury magazine; I was married to a lovely man who my friends and family seemed to think was the best thing that ever happened to me; and I lived in a sun-drenched loft in New York’s East Village. By that September, I was trying to respect (and support) myself as a freelance writer and blogger, in the messiest part of divorce proceedings, and crying on the kitchen floor of my new bare-bones railroad apartment in Brooklyn, which I would be sharing with a friend of a friend and which I quickly named Fort Squalor.
Shortly after that, I turned 39. I was staring at 40. Middle age. And this was no longer the life I was supposed to be leading. I wasn’t ready to think about 40.
I was doing everything you’re expected to do when you’re 25—living in the cheapest apartment I’d had in my 17 years in New York, having late-night conversations with my roommate (who was herself 28), traveling, blogging, and dating, shall we say, enthusiastically. In the midst of my forced reinvention, I had as much freedom—and fear—as I’d had at 25. And maybe I didn’t quite look 25, but a lifetime of sunscreen vigilance had paid off. Nothing in me identified with 40.